Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

The Top 3 Fears Sabotaging Your Writing (And the Solutions)

Writers mistakenly believe there are endless reasons why you do not produce:

You think you’re too lazy to write.

You worry your stories are not good enough.

You want to write, but can’t seem to make yourself sit down and do it.

These are all excuses, as well as variations of the same struggle. The enemy of writers everywhere is…

all-writers-experience-fear-and-doubt

F e a r

Fear of failure. Fear of success. One thousand different phobias that keep you from making your dreams come true.

Fear is sneaky, though. It doesn’t jump out and scream, “Boo!” Fear disguises itself in multiple ways and affects everyone uniquely. It hits each of you where you’re most vulnerable.

I’ve heard from hundreds of writers and now see clear patterns in the different fears, as well as understand how to conquer them.

Here are the top three ways fear sabotages your writing:

1. Self-Doubt

Hands down, this is the #1 fear and dreaded enemy of all writers.

You worry you don’t have enough talent to be successful.

If you do schlep words onto the page, you’re sure nobody will ever want to read them.

You debate if writing is worth the investment of time because you’re so rotten at it.

Every bit of this is fear, and all writers experience self-doubt throughout their careers. (Click to Tweet)

I’ve watched this firsthand over the years. I have talented friends whose hard work and determination have landed them on the New York Times Best Seller’s list. However, they agonize over each new novel, sure their editors will hate it, certain their readers will discover their previous successes were mere flukes, and that they’ll die unloved, penniless and alone.

So, whether you are Nancy Newbie or Bobby Best Seller, you’re going to face self-doubt.

The fact is not everyone is going to like your writing. This is true for every writer, published and unpublished.

Don’t believe me? Look up your favorite book right now on Amazon and someone will have given it a poor review. I just did this with Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Michael Cunningham. All three have hit the NYT multiple times, yet they also have multiple one-star reviews.

With time, patience and practice, you can grow in your craft and find the right audience for you. Believe in yourself and write on.

Solution:

Every writer experiences self-doubt. If you want to be published, then share your work in ways to grow in your craft: through qualified critiquers, entering respected contests, submitting to agents and editors. Keep writing!

(Bryan wrote a fantastic book about this, you should read it.)

2. Perfectionism

Although this is the #2 struggle for all writers, it can be more destructive because it’s like self-doubt on steroids.

You can’t even write one full page, because you keep judging, criticizing and editing as you go.

You start your story over and over, searching for the ideal beginning, but rarely finding it. Or, you do happen to finish the entire manuscript, then deem it unworthy and throw it out to start again.

You worry so much about others criticizing your work that you never share anything with others.

Let me be clear. You should always strive for excellence in all aspects of your writing and publishing. Your work should be error-free, and as flawless as possible.

Perfectionism is different.

Why?

It’s abusive. The difference between the two is striving for excellence feels wonderful because you’re trying your very best. Perfectionism feels terrible because your work is somehow never quite good enough.

Do your best, then let go of the rest.

Solution:

When you’re writing, let yourself get the words onto the page first, without judging, criticizing or editing. Polish and proofreading come later. Find competent, trusted readers to help you decide if your work is ‘good enough’ and ready to be shared with others.

3. Procrastination

Struggle #3 is most interesting because most every writer is guilty of it.

You don’t say, “I’m not going to write.”

You say, “I will write.”

Tomorrow.

Or, after you throw another load of laundry in the wash.

Or, after you’ve researched your subject matter some more.

How many times have you had just 30 minutes to write, but you wasted those precious moments on other things? Everyone has their favorite time wasters: checking email, social media, suddenly cleaning the house, reading writing blogs or books, reading novels in your genre to study the market.

If procrastination is your struggle, then you need to be honest about what you do to avoid the page. My go-to time-wasters are: checking email, scrolling through Facebook, and reading articles on MSN.com. Every one of those activities can wait until later.

Solution:

Analyze your favorite time-wasters and be honest why you use these activities (either self-doubt, perfectionism or both), then get to work.

Fear’s Other Disguises

Here are a few other ways fear masks itself to sneak up and stop you: self-sabotage (binge-watching TV), sabotage from others (guilt from friends or family members over your time wasted on your little hobby), and jealousy of others’ success (he won that contest, or she’s an Amazon Best Seller).

Fear is part of the creative process, and in life for that matter. Fear wants to stop you from making any sort of positive changes. It’s why you dread tomorrow’s writing session, why you never used that expensive gym membership you bought, and why you pay off your credit cards, then rack up debt all over again.

Fear is Good

What?

Fear is actually a positive sign. It’s a gauge that shows how passionate you are about your writing. The more fearful you are, the more important it is you and the more you must get those words onto the page.

From now on, expect fear in your creative process, then write anyway.

Good luck!

How are you dealing with your fears? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

This post is by Positive Writer contributor Marcy McKay.

About Marcy McKay

Marcy McKay wanted to write stories ever since she read about Oompa Loompas in fourth grades. She's the Amazon best-selling author of Pennies from Burger Heaven. Join her on Facebook. Marcy is also a contributing author to The Audacity to be a Writer.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins

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  • AnnM

    Guilty, Guilty, guilty of all of the above.
    Many blogs lately have resonated with me, in that I have always written. The last couple of years though I have written with the idea of sharing and publishing.
    It is amusing when I think of all the letters I have written, quite profusely as I emigrated at a young age and before the Internet, cheap phone calls etc. Most of my keeping in touch and informing friends and family was by letter. I never thought of all that as “writing”. I have always been good at letter writing. People would say my letters were ‘conversational’ and that they flowed and were envious of the ease which i seemed to produce them.

    It was only when I thought of my writing as, well… Writing that I became fearful. However, with the realization that I was a writer (you helped me to actually be able to enunciate that fact Marcy) came to pressure to write and write well. It’s taken a while but I’m gaining confidence. Putting myself out there, entered a writing contest on The Wrtie Practice recently and am sending work to trusted beta readers.

    I still second-guess and become fearful but it hasn’t stopped my progress. I’m still writing and more ideas pour in regularly. Blogs like this keep me going!

    Thanks Marcy!

    • Hey there, Ann,

      Isn’t it interesting that our writing becomes so much more terrifying when we realize it’s WRITING. I’m glad I helped you clarify some of your fears. There’s a saying, “If you name it, then you can claim it.” Identifying our fears and facing them is the only way I know how to make them go away.

      You’re doing great. Keep up the good work!

    • I was/am a prolific letter (now email) writer too, Ann – and it is one of my procrastination tools in addition to being a valuable support tool for my writing process.

      Thank you for this extremely helpful and supportive blog, Marcy – I am guilty of all those behaviors! Going online is probably my worst habit. I am struggling with what I have told myself will be the final edit of my first full-length novel (having previously self-pubbed a small anthology) and I am in the throes of self-doubt about the way I have laid out the plot… I have a quiet weekend alone coming up and intend to sit down and get writing, even though I know a thousand distractions will tempt me away from it… wish me luck!

  • Dawn Brockmeier

    Well it is always interesting to hear from you! I did send this article to a fearful friend who needs a push to get back at it!

    • Great to hear from you, Dawn. How thoughtful of you to share this post with a friend. I hope it helps her. I hope your writing is going well, too. Thanks for your comment.

      • Dawn Brockmeier

        Oh, I stopped off and got a professional certification in Interior Design! So have not been writing much! Just short items in my writing group! I am redesigning my art studio for writing… It became a gardening shed! I live in South Texas and without air conditioning it was useless! I can write in the house but want to get My creative space back this Fall!

        • Believe, I understand that South Texas humidity. Here’s to cooler writing weather!

  • Bruce Andis

    Like many other commenters, these fears/excuses resonated with me. What I found most powerful, though, was the penultimate paragraph: “Fear is actually a positive sign. It’s a gauge that shows how passionate you are about your writing. The more fearful you are, the more important it is [to] you and the more you must get those words onto the page.” Thank you, Marcy, for writing that. I’d begun to doubt that I ever had that passion.

    • Hello, Bruce,

      Learning to understand that fear was GOOD was a powerful epiphany for me, too. There’s nothing wrong with us. Fear is just doing its job. We must do ours as well and write on!

  • EmFairley

    Thanks Marcy! By nature I’m anxious and fearful and it applies to my writing too. Just as you say here I’ll push through the fear in writing and get that novel written. Thanks again!

    • It’s terrific that 1) you have the awareness you’re both anxious and fearful, but yet you, 2) write anyway. It’s part of why I love my early-morning sessions (5-7 am). I’m not awake enough to be afraid! Thanks for your insights, EmFairley.

      • EmFairley

        I faced the fear again today, before diving right in and writing a section of dialog for the opening chapter. I felt anxious about being able to truly give a voice to the leading man, but having had a very quick read of it, I think I nailed it. Only time will tell when I come to edit it. Grin

        • Bravo. That’s how it’s down. Acknowledge the fear, then write anyway. Keep going!

          • EmFairley

            Thanks again, Marcy. Your encouragement and support means a lot!

  • Kathy

    As I sit here going through my e-mails, I realized from reading your article that I am procrastinating and need to get to writing. I have close to 400 pages written, yet I keep trying to make a good “ending” that will make this book a cliff hanger. That goes back to my perfectionism and need to let loose and submit to my critique group. Great article that makes me return again to writing and not put it off!

    • I really struggle with perfectionism myself, Kathy, so I can relate. However! You are so lucky that you have a critique group. Multiple heads are better than one. I can’t tell you how many awesome ideas, plot twists, etc. have come from my critique group that I would’ve NEVER thought on my own. You have almost 400 pages…it’s time to share!

  • Tammy Schaefer

    Thanks Marcy! I was stewing in self-doubt over the weekend, so this came at just the right time. My mantra has been “do it afraid” and with that I’m off to write! 🙂

    • Stephanie Sanchez

      Tammy… That is a great mantra!

    • Do It Afraid! That’s brilliant, Tammy. I can picture that on T-shirts, bumper stickers and coffee mugs. I love it. Thanks for sharing!

  • Stephanie Sanchez

    Marcey,

    It’s been a while since I commented, but reading this post reminded me of a fact I learned about F. Scott Fitzgerald… He died thinking himself a complete and utter failure. How crazy is that, right? He was a far cry from a failure and yet WE let our dreams go just for the FEAR of failing. Tsk, tsk on us… Thought provoking.

    ~Stephanie~

    • You bring up an EXCELLENT point about Fitzgerald, Stephanie. How sad that brilliant writing like that doubted himself to the grave. I knew this fact, but thanks to you, I’m FEELING that truth on a deeper level. Many thanks.

  • Claudia Peel

    I love this post, Marcy. I can certainly identify with your comment that all writers experience self-doubt at some point in their careers. I was a print journalist for many years during which time I learned to toughen up. You know, it’s sometimes very difficult to put one’s work out there because it’s part of who we are. Sometimes we don’t feel good enough, for reasons that have nothing to do with skills and everything to do with self-talk. You know, if we want to be confident writers, we have to own who we are. We owe it to ourselves to trust in our own abilities and to get on with the business of writing.

    • Beautifully said, Claudia. I can’t add anymore. Thank you!

      • Claudia

        Thanks, Marcy.

  • Catherine North

    Thanks Marcy, I was in need of a boost again today! Self-doubt is by far my worst enemy. So often I’m convinced I irredeemably suck as a writer, and then the endless rejections seem to confirm that. However, I learned a while back that nothing will ever stop me writing, it’s just not in my nature to be able to give it up!

    • Those rejections HURT, Catherine. No doubt about it, but it helps to remember it’s a numbers game. You’re going to hear many, many more NO’s that YESES, but every no takes you closer to that glorious yes.
      For me, it helped to enter contests and keep trying until I won. Do some freelance magazine writing that actually paid me. It was a monetary reminder that I CAN write. To do little things on the side that helped me grow as a writer, as well as keep me positive.
      I’m glad you won’t ever give up because those are those folks who succeed!

  • Anthony

    Hi. Coming late with a response to this overview of “writer neuroses.” I needed to give some thought to the behaviors that straddle the line between what seems to be only natural and what gets in the way of, well, my creativity. Of late, this blocker is hurtful: Comparing myself to more successful writers than I am sort of freezes me in action. “They are great, I’m not” kind of “neurosis.” They are prolific, I am not. They write fast in the flow of inspiration, I do not. What helps me most is my mindfulness practice, however trendy that may sound. But it works. I do not ward off the attack of these negative images of who I am. Instead, I face them head on. Identify them. Breathe through them. Allow them to pass through me. It’s not a one shot deal. Oh, no, indeed. These beasts will return … again … and … again. And again … and … again, I will draw on my mindfulness practice to help me survive. And get back to my writing. Oh,and by the by, the critique group I recently joined provides me the guidance needed to help improve the writing and wave the beasts away. Thank you, Marcy, for caring about … us.

    • Hi Anthony,

      You’ve seemed to already figure out that comparing yourself to other writers, does nothing to help your writing, and, in fact, is quite damaging. We’ve all struggled with this. It’s human nature. Jealousy, envy, whatever you call it — it’s like poison to our creativity.

      That’s fantastic you’ve discovered mindful practice, as well as having a critique group to help you improve your writing, as well as keep a positive attitude. In short, you’re doing GREAT. Keep up the good work.

  • Sara

    “Fear is good.”
    Well, THAT caught me off guard.
    …But you know what? It makes sense.

    • HA, Sara. You absolutely made my day with your comment. Thank you for taking the time to say and THINK about it because it is true. We need to stop fearing fear. It won’t make it go away. We must feel the fear, then write anyway.

  • steelhorseclub

    “Reading writing blogs”, crap! You caught me. Alright, I’ll get back to writing. Ha!

    • Ha, good one. Writing blogs are a double-edged sword. They can either be so inspiring, or used as procrastination. It’s all in our motives.

  • Steve2413

    This was a terrific post! I added this blog to a list on my website that reference blogs and sites that encourage writers (and dreamers) If anyone has a site they want to promote that does this, please contact me. I’ll be happy to look at it!